“They are extraordinary. It boggles my mind that there are still good people like that in the world.”
– Jim O’Connor said of the Mormon missionaries who showed up in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy and are still helping with the clean-up. The Daily News.
As we head into the holiday season and look forward to celebrating with family and friends, we are reminded of all the things we have to be thankful for.
I personally had a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving as I sat down with good friends for a wonderful dinner. I was grateful to have survived “Sandy.”
I live in Manhattan on the East River – a tidal strait that connects on both sides to the ocean. It was pretty scary when Hurricane Sandy hit and the river overflowed. The salt marks are still on the walls of the lower level of my apartment complex, the flood water having reached the first floor.
But other than being scared, and having the inconvenience of living without power for seven days, I was unscathed and physically the better for having to walk up and down fourteen flights of stairs every day.
One of the hardest hit areas was the Rockaways (see article on page 37). These tight-knit Irish-American families of New York firemen and police officers are a bit skeptical of help from outsiders. They like to solve their own problems. But the enormity of the storm damage was overwhelming.
Among the first to arrive on the scene were a group of young Irish workers from Navillus Contracting, whose president, Donal O’Sullivan, is one of our Business 100 honorees.
Help also arrived from another surprising source. About 6,000 Mormon volunteers arrived from across the country to help with the recovery effort and were embraced by the community.
Rockaway has known more than its share of tragedy. The community lost 50 people on 9/11, many of them firefighters. You would think that this new tragedy would kill the spirit in the people, but it hasn’t.
The Irish in Rockaway have extraordinary resilience, and heart. As they struggled to rise again after 9/11, they reached out to help wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. For eight years now, the community has hosted an annual Wounded Warrior Weekend – a four-day summer water sports festival. The soldiers stay with local families, and trained instructors teach them how to use water-skiing equipment that has been specially adapted for amputees, so that they can enjoy the freedom of the water. This past July, 52 wounded soldiers, 19 of whom were in wheelchairs (three were triple amputees and one was a quadruple amputee), took part in the festival.
“The Wounded Warrior project has helped us heal,” Flip Mullen, one of main organizers, said when I talked to him last summer. And when I contacted him after Sandy, he and his wife Rita sent back a message, saying,“Thank you for your concern. We are safe. Many homes were destroyed, but we are a faith-built community and we will rebuild the town we love so well.”
And I have no doubt that the Rockaway Irish will rebuild. They have shown what they are made of, and what people can do when they stick together. And, please God, by next July, they will be ready for those soldiers to descend on their beach again.
And as our own East Coast region moves forward with recovery efforts, let us not forget that the hurricane also left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean, causing millions of dollars of damage in Jamaica. The consequences for Haiti were even greater. Flooding killed 54 and left 200,000, already in temporary housing from the earthquake, homeless.
In this issue, we recognize the work of Denis O’Brien who received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for his work in Haiti. Denis is the Irish-born founder of Digicel, one of the largest cellular phone companies in the world. Since it set up shop in Jamaica in 2001, Digicel has become a godsend to the people of the Caribbean, especially Haiti, where the work that it has done post-earthquake has been phenomenal.
Digicel’s slogan is “Share the Extraordinary.”
More than anything, Hurricane Sandy has shown us that there are many ordinary human beings who, in times of need, prove to be quite extraordinary.